FOI complaints to data protection watchdog increase by 5%

Information Commissioner’s Office annual report shows that local government generated the most complaints

More people complained about the way FOI requests were handled – Photo credit: PA

There was a 4.9% increase in the number of complaints about Freedom of Information requests to the Information Commissioner’s Office in 2016-17.

The ICO can investigate how public authorities have responded to FOI requests, and will ask whether the organisation in question could have breached the Freedom of Information Act, for instance by failing to respond properly, or by not publishing the correct information.

According to the information watchdog’s annual operations report, published today (12 May) there were 5,433 complaints about FOI responses in 2016-17, up from 5,181 in 2015-16.

It said that 61% of all FOI complaints were not upheld, with 14% being partially upheld and 24% upheld.

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Local government remained the sector that generated the most complaints – although the proportion of complaints about councils fell by 1 percentage point, from 40% to 39%, between 2015-16 and 2017-18. In 2014-15, 46% of FOI complaints were about local government.

Central government remained in second position, prompting 17% of the complaints – the same as the previous year – while police and criminal justice brought in 14%, health 12% and education 8%.

The ICO’s report said that small parish councils “have had difficulty fulfilling information rights obligations” – something that has been identified as a problem area for local government previously.

The watchdog last year ran a local government survey on FOIs to try and get a better understanding of their information governance frameworks.

The ICO can refer organisations to monitoring if they consistently fail to respond properly to FOI requests – both the Met Police and Trafford Council have been subject to this in the past year.

In March, the watchdog increased the threshold for FOI monitoring as part of efforts to tighten up on slow response times, meaning that organisations will now be considered for monitoring if fewer than 90% of FOI responses fall within the statutory timescale.

The ICO’s report also reveals the number of data protection concerns reported during the year, saying that it received the highest number of reported concerns in 2016-17 of all time.

These were made up of 2,565 self-reported incidents – a 31.5% increase – and 16,388 concerns from the public – a 12% increase.

Of the self-reported incidents, 11% were from local government – ranking it second behind health -and of the public concerns, 10% were about local government, which put it in third position behind general business and health.

Central government came fifth in public concerns (5% of the total concerns), while it was eighth in the list of self-reported incidents, making up just 2% of the overall total.

In a statement released alongside the annual report, the ICO said that it had worked to improve online reporting tools to make it easier for the public to report concerns, as well as setting up self-assessment tools to help organisations.

It also added that the ICO’s work will “intensify next year” as it helps organisations prepare for the General Data Protection Regulation, which comes into force on 25 May 2018.


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